Thanks to the unparalleled support of Swimbo, the ISWE family, and Bromton Guru, Dave Tortora at Accent Bicycles, the ISWE fleet has unfolded to include the legendary Brompton M6R folding bike! It's been about a week. I'll give you a breakdown of some first impressions.
Let's begin by saying that, in the age of being able to get anything from the Internet, there is no substitute for seeing something in person and getting advice from someone who knows. There are two features on the Brompton that one simply has to see to believe. I probably wouldn't have purchased them online. Today, I can't imagine life without them.
The first feature is the Shimano hub dynamo lighting system with Busch & Muller halogen head and tail lights. The front hub generates enough power to illuminate everything practically from the first pedal stroke. Ride for about three minutes and the back light will stay on for about five--plenty of time for stoplights. And it's really bright. Much brighter than the 3-AA battery-powered light that is sometimes on the Birdy (sometimes in my toolbox). I would compare the power to lights found on mopeds. No charging or changing batteries. Always on the bike. Always ready to go. Very little, if any, drag. As a confession, I have to say I have rarely used the lighting setup on the Birdy. It's unhandy and turning on the blinky light on the rear truly is a pain. As such, I've ridden less than safely. Those days are over. One switch and the Brommie lights are on, safely leading the way and alerting drivers to your presence. But best of all, you are generating power on your own. Take that wind and solar farms. I'm a one man power plant! If only I could use the hub to charge my phone... hmmm?
The second feature is the combination luggage block/C-Bag combination. The Brompton luggage system is based on a sturdy little luggage block attached to a boss on the head tube. This accepts an aluminum frame. It just clicks on. Brompton's various bags then velcro onto the rack. Click on, click off. This setup is truly magical. Week one of the ISWE Brompton experience included lugging equipment for a cancer study across campus--one bag containing two laptops and power supplies, another bag containing study materials. The whole thing probably weighed well over twenty-five pounds. Note: Swimbo was unable to lift the two-laptop-containing C-Bag today. Not that she's all that muscular, but it was heavy :) Clicked onto the bike the weight simply disappeared. Yes, the Brommie defied the laws of physics. No weight on the shoulder. No sweaty strap in the 100-degree heat. The bags just sat there on the luggage frame like they were nothing at all. There is simply no feeling quite like zipping along the sidewalks and streets of campus, transporting tons of stuff, as if you were just going out for a ride. It feels like your doing something illegal. People look at you like, "Hey, he can't do that! He can't carry all that stuff with no effort! Can he?" Yes I can. Zip!
Here are the brilliant little mechanisms exposed. That black trapezoidal gizmo thing is the luggage block. Two screws hold it to the head tube. Below that, you see the Busch & Muller headlight. On the back side of the light, there's a small switch. It's a little hard to reach with the luggage block in place, but just a flick and both the front and rear lights come on. I imagine with practice, I'll get better at operating it (while riding), turning slightly left or right before trying it... or, I could remember to turn it on before getting on the bike. There's an idea!
This little guy is the luggage frame. It weighs practically nothing (especially in comparison to two laptops). Some people I've heard also zip tie milk crates to it. It's available as an accessory without a bag. It's actually much more functional than the rear rack. Dave Tortora often recommends foregoing the rear rack altogether. One thing about the rear rack he notes is that you have to take whatever is on it off before parking the bike (folding the rack under the seat) or folding it completely. He's right. This week, I used the rear rack for carrying my u-lock and a spare inner tube. Yes, I forgot and tried to park the bike without removing either. Yes, they got in the way. That said, I'm glad I have the rack. It makes the bike sturdier when parked and it's there if I need it. Plus, it's cool!
Much to the dismay of Swimbo, the first day out included a 25+ mile Brommie ride in heat topping out at an potentially egg-frying 104 degrees. Yikes was it hot. Not sure I'd do that again real soon, but it was a great test for the Brommie. At the midway point, I popped in to see fellow small wheel enthusiast Robbie Janik at his home just north of downtown Indianapolis. Robbie's wife Jenn almost reported me for stealing a kid's bike! Luckily, I was able to change her mind by briefly demonstrating the features of the Brommie. She was amazed to find that it was actually a full-sized bike. Whew, that was a close one. I was surprised to find that after 15 miles, I was pretty much fresh. Riding the recumbent a lot, I often find long rides on uprights tiring on my shoulders, arms, and hands. Not so on the Brommie. The riding position is upright enough to keep most of the weight off of your arms. The seating position, I'd say, is about halfway between a 10-speed and a cruiser. Brompton offers a new H-model that is even more upright, probably too upright for me. I like to think I'm at least a little Tour de France-ish even if I'm not.
Much to the delight of the ISWE staff, the rest of the week included several really fun rides around downtown Indianapolis. One day, I circumnavigated the Indianapolis Zoo to try to catch a glimpse of their new baby elephant. Another day, I rode through downtown Indianapolis, around Monument Circle, to the library and back. Two times, I rode the Canal. All of this, by the way, on my half-hour lunch break. Why eat when you can ride! The Monument Circle ride was the best. I can't say how many times I've traveled the same roads by car without ever noticing all of the the interesting details I saw from the Brommie. There's a lot of strange stuff down there, including war memorials with marble columns and golden eagles, some pretty large fountains, and a sculpture that looks a lot like a giant, little chocolate donut. And that's the beauty of small wheels. Even though it was a very hectic week, I was able to squeeze in several little urban adventures. Next week I'm going to get to see that baby elephant for sure! I'll be sure to forward a full report. Baby elephants are, after all, the small wheels of the elephant world.
On a related note, yours truly would probably not be here today without the ISWE-approved Two Fish Quick Cage. Small wheel bikes often have a lot of trouble with water bottle cages. For one, there's never anywhere to put them. Folding bike tubes are often odd sizes and/or curved. Second, they tend to get in the way of the fold. The Two Fish Quick Cage uses a rubber block and velcro strap for attachment. While it's not light, its stainless cage and attachment are nearly indestructible. I've had mine for years and it works like new. It's a very good thing I had it on Saturday. Thanks to Robbie and Jenn for the fill-up by the way. The ice was greatly appreciated! Sometimes I see bottles attached to the head tube boss on Bromptons. That would mean no luggage and a pretty serious reach for a drink. I put the Two Fish on the handlebar stem and its right there where I need it. I could even put two on there... hmmm? A much better solution. ISWE approved!
Well, we passed up a discussion of the Al Inglis Invisibility Rule to bring you this report. We'll be sure to get back to it soon. Thanks for reading and remember: ISWE? We is!
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